Mothering for the Motherless

If you and your mom are close, your relationship will no doubt take on a new dimension as you have children.  You can go to her for advice or an alternative point of view.  You can find validation of the job you are doing – in her words, and in her eyes.  You can grow to understand her better, understand yourown childhood better, as you work through your own years-to-come as a young mother.

But what if you don’t have a mother?  What if she has passed away?  What if she has stepped permanently out of your life for whatever reason?  Or what if your relationship with your mother is such that you know you can never, in any way, look to her for support or affirmation?  What if your mother is far away, or if her own problems or illness prevent her from being the resource and the comfort that you need?

Some of the things that can prevent a young mom from having her mother’s support are:  death, mental illness, geographical distance, serious dysfunction in the family, alcoholism or drug addiction, a history of abuse, or irreconcilable differences in childrearing philosophy.

This last one, irreconcilable differences in childrearing philosophy, refers to true extremes:   you believe in attachment parenting, and you mother rigidly insists that you are ruining your child, and your child needs to cry it out; you believe in non-violent discipline methods, and your mother believes that you should start spanking your child at six months because “he knows better.”  Differences like these leave little room for mutual understanding:  each view has an entirely different concept of how a child learns, what a child needs, and who a child even is, essentially.  Most grandmother/mother dyads will not have such extreme differences, and will be able to tolerate a little disparity with humor and flexibility.

But if your mother is out of your life, or cannot be a support to you for any reason, you find yourself without a North Star to guide you.  You may be racked with self-doubt and insecurities; you may feel very alone.  You could have your partner to affirm you, you could have lots of online support groups, but essentially, you are “winging it.”

For most of human history, grandmothers have helped mothers to ease into their new role.  Raising a baby is a monumental task.  As you look at your baby and later at your toddler, preschooler and on and on down the road, you may wonder about those same stages from your own childhood:  trying to remember or even imagine—how did my own mom or caretakers manage these things that I am facing now?

There is a truism:  “You can’t give what you were never given.”  I’m here to tell you:  Don’t you believe it!   You absolutely can give your child the childhood you never had. You can give love, nurturing, and sensitive guidance to your child, no matter if you were or were not parented this way.   If you had a troubled childhood, and you are reading this article, I will reassure you that you already are doing it.  How do I know?  Because if you are reading articles about mothering, you are bringing intention into your role.  You are not responding reactively, without thought, and repeating a chain that has been passed down through generations.  At least, not always.  For sure, some of the time, you are breaking the chain and creating yourself as a mother—perhaps as the mother you should have had.

Reading articles and books on mothering is a way to bring consciousness into what you do as a mother.  Please continue reading.  And, if you did have a troubled childhood, or if your mother is not present for you, I will give you a homework assignment right here, right now:  find a Mothering Mentor.  Somewhere—in a playgroup, in your extended family, in your neighborhood, in your La Leche League group—somewhere there is a mother, or maybe even several mothers, whose mothering style you have noticed and appreciated.  Approach them for advice.  Make regular time to reach out to those who seem open to mentoring you, if only for a few minutes a week. 1997 05-06 May June 001

As you mother, dear young mother, you repair the motherless part in yourself.  You re-create the mother-child bond, as it should have been; as it should be.

Joy Davy is a therapist in Hinsdale, Illinois, focusing on parenting challenges, postpartum depression, and Mentoring the Motherless Mother. For 12 years she was a La Leche League Leader, and breastfed all of her 5 children. Joy can be reached at 630-935-7915. Check out her website at

4 thoughts on “Mothering for the Motherless

  1. P.S. from the author: This photo on the cover of New Beginnings from 1997 is myself and my youngest child, Rosemary. The photo was taken by my wonderful husband, Tom Davy.

  2. Thank you for this article. This is exactly me for the last 8 years. I took my grandmother’s example from how she tried to help raise us and expanded on it for my own 3 children. My kids know what it is to be loved, cherished, and safe every day. Not many speak about mother loss or dysfunction but it can effect us profoundly for generations!

    1. Helene, you are so lucky to have your grandmother’s example in your life. Some of us don’t have anyone in the family, and have to go outside of the family to search. You are so right, the effects do come down through the generations, unless mothers consciously and intentionally decide to take a different path. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Blessings to you and your family.

  3. Thank you for acknowledging firstly, that we lose our mothers for different reasons outside of death and secondl, how tough this can be. Greatly appreciated.

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